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Roof leaks force school closure

A leaking roof at the Pagosa Springs Elementary School, which led to the school closing last Friday, is being repaired, but questions remain regarding the contractor’s responsibility for damages caused by the roof.

A crew consisting of school staff members and employees of a local company spent Friday morning shoveling snow from the roof of the building. Classes resumed Monday morning.

Installed just under three years ago, the roof has been the source of headaches for students and school staff almost since its installation. According to Mark DeVoti, superintendent for Archuleta School District 50 Joint, a carpet in the school has been ruined due to leaks, while teachers have had to put tarps over equipment and materials to prevent water damage.

“Sometimes, teachers have had to put as many as a dozen buckets in a room,” DeVoti said.

In fact, the roof has had numerous issues since it was installed during the summer of 2007. The roofing contractor, The Garland Company, is based out of Cleveland, Ohio, but has a branch in Denver and specializes in flat roof construction.

“We pretty much had issues by the end of 2007,” DeVoti said.

With the school closure last week, DeVoti contacted the contractor, but was told by a company representative that the warranty would not cover required repairs to the roof. At that point, DeVoti contacted the district’s attorney and sent copies of the contract.

By Tuesday, employees of The Garland Company were at the school assessing the situation. According to DeVoti, representatives of the company told him that materials used for the roof were not suited for Pagosa Country’s altitude or climate. The intense sun during the summer and snow loads during the winter apparently compromised the integrity of those materials early on.

DeVoti said he was told by contractors that the roof membrane had broken down and was retaining water.

“They did admit today (Tuesday) that their product broke down,” DeVoti said.

Unfortunately, previous complaints to the company had gone largely unheeded. Although the district contacted the company as soon as problems arose near the end of 2007, and numerous times afterwards, the company was unresponsive to the district’s concerns.

“The Front Range representative, Jeff Ruden, had been down several times,” DeVoti said, “but we never got any satisfaction.”

This week, however, the company responded in a way that pleased DeVoti — to some extent.

“All I know is the guy came through,” DeVoti said, adding, “We’re getting a better roof than what we paid for, not just a subcoat but a top coat.”

However, DeVoti conceded that the warranty did not cover interior damage and it could be problematic getting The Garland Company to cover the cost of replacing water-damaged materials. Leaks resulting from the last snow storm damaged a carpet in the building so badly that it has been removed and the floor is being dried out before a new carpet is installed. In the meantime, that particular classroom cannot be used by students or teachers.

Furthermore, The Garland Company had also installed the roof at the Pagosa Springs Junior High School — a roof that has also had ongoing issues.

“There are 10-20 leaks at the junior high that need to be fixed,” DeVoti said, but could not say if The Garland Company would also address those issues.

DeVoti said that, the diligence of teachers, covering equipment and materials at the end of every school day, minimized damage at the elementary school.

“The professionalism really came through,” he said, regarding how teachers responded to the leaks. “They were amazing, under stressful conditions.”

Although The Garland Company has finally responded to leaks at the elementary school — after two years of continued complaints and problems at the school — no one at the district can say if the company will also respond to issues at the junior high school, or will address interior damage that resulted from those leaks. If not, and if the district does not pursue any claims, it will be the district that pays. Unfortunately, with the district facing a $1.35 million budget shortfall for the 2010-2011 school year (see related story), the district can hardly afford added expenses.

However, DeVoti puts the problem in perspective. “The ones that have had to pay for this are the kids and the teachers,” he said. “They’re the ones who had to put up with what has been a stressful situation.”

Adding in the district’s current budget woes, DeVoti’s words could not be more perspicacious. The kids really are the ones paying the price.

jim@pagosasun.com